State-of-the-art laser technology in Alberta helps people living with epilepsy

A young Calgary man’s life has been forever changed after undergoing a new procedure only recently made available in Alberta.

For most of his life, 18-year-old Andrew Najar suffered from a unique form of seizures.

I would randomly laugh. I never knew when this would happen,” Andrew said. “It was really hard to live with because I lost confidence in everything.”

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From childhood, Andrew suffered from involuntary laughing spells. His parents didn’t realize something was wrong until Andrew had a full body seizure when he was just 12 years old.

“For the first 12 years of his life, we didn’t realize his seizures were actually seizures,” Andrew’s dad, Silverio Najar, explained. “We thought he was laughing because he heard a funny joke or something.”

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Andrew was taken to see a neurosurgeon at the Alberta Children’s Hospital who found a benign tumor at the base of his brain.

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His laughing episodes were actually gelastic seizures, which are rare and usually involve a sudden burst of energy often in the form of laughing.

“I was really afraid. I didn’t know I was going to have full body seizures,” Andrew said.

As the years went by, Andrew was certain he would miss out on many life experiences including learning how to drive. But on the cusp of turning 18, Andrew’s doctors were able to present him with a permanent solution.

State-of-the art technology had arrived in Alberta in order to help epilepsy patients stop their seizures.

“Finally, there was something to do for his case,” Silverio said.

“The results are amazing, just amazing.”

Thanks to support from both the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Calgary Health Trust, Andrew is one of two children in western Canada to undergo the life-changing procedure.

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The treatment called Laser Interstitial Thermal Therapy (LITT) uses a laser probe to heat up and destroy tissue responsible for causing seizures.

“You have to place the laser in exactly the right spot,” neurosurgeon Dr. Walter Hader said. “In Andrew’s case, it was a target of six to eight millimetres in size.”

At the end of the procedure… we take the laser out and literally put one or two sutures in the skin and most patients will go home the next day,” Hader explained. 

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Prior to LITT, Hader said patients would have to undergo invasive surgery which involved a longer recovery time and there was a risk of infection.

“This is a much less invasive way of doing it,” Hader said. “It’s all been a team effort.”

Andrew said since receiving the treatment at the end of August, he’s now thinking of getting his learner’s licence and more importantly, he hasn’t had a single seizure.

“None, zero,” he said. “It’s just me laughing, it’s not a seizure and it feels so much better.”

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